Bogor, West Java. After enduring a one-hour trek uphill through muddy pathways to reach her elementary school in the village of Gobang, Bogor, 12-year-old Yanti doesn’t know if she’ll learn anything after the hike. She and her classmates are sometimes told to go back home because their teachers are often late — if they show up at all.
The condition has forced the school’s keeper, 17-year-old Supriyadi, who only has a junior high school diploma, to act as a substitute teacher.
“For the students here, if Bu Ayu or Pak Fahzri haven’t showed up by 9 a.m., we can either go home or take Pak Supri’s class,” Yanti said, refering to the school’s two teachers.
The nameless school sits on top of Kukuh Sumbung hill, five kilometers away from the nearest paved road, to provide basic education for two isolated hamlets — Kukuh Sumbung and Pabuaran — inhabited in total by 150 families, mostly farmers.
Before the school was built in 2010 through the help of the Community Empowerment National Program, students had to walk more than five kilometers to the nearest elementary school in Gobang, which prevented many families from sending their children to school.
But given poor attendance from teachers in the Kukuh Sumbung school, some children have stopped bothering to come at all, particularly as the district, which borders Jakarta to the north, enters the rainy season. The rains transform beaten roads and paths into impenetrable pools of mud, forcing students to take detours and walk even further.
“In the dry season it usually takes less than one hour because we can cut through the hills,” Yanti said, adding that this time she and her friends had to cross the neighboring village of Cijantur.
The school only has two classrooms, forcing the 150 students from different grades to study together, often sharing books their parents can’t afford. Some students’ families cannot afford their uniforms, while others show up to class barefoot.
The walls are dirty from muddy water leaks and construction for the school’s facade remains unfinished with the scaffolding still in place. The school has one bathroom, but no running water.
Supriyadi said he felt sorry for the students, who journeyed on kilometers of muddy roads just to reach the school.
“Actually, I only graduated from junior high school but I have to do something if the teachers don’t come,” he said. “What can I do? I am sad to see the kids come only to be told to go home.”
After Supriyadi taught the first and second graders for more than an hour, finally one teacher showed up — 22-year-old Yunengsih, arriving on her old scooter. Known to her students as Bu Ayu, Yunengsih was soaking wet, her uniform dirty from mud.
Yunengsih, who is still finishing college, said sometimes she has to attend morning classes at her university in Bogor, 30 kilometers away on winding and heavily congested roads.
“That is why sometimes I have to abandon teaching,” she said. “I want to graduate right away so I can become a full-time civil servant and concentrate on teaching.”
Even if she doesn’t have to attend classes at her university, getting to work means travelling 10 kilometers from her home in Bojong Kulur village on a motorcycle, spending more than half of her Rp 500,000 ($52) monthly salary on gasoline.
“For gasoline, I spend about Rp 300,000 per month and if I cannot use my motorcycle, I have to take ojek [motorcycle taxi], which costs Rp 50,000 round trip,” she said.
Schoolkeeper Supriyadi said he only gets paid Rp 300,000 per month and he doesn’t get any extra for being a substitute teacher. The other teacher, Fahzri, did not show up the day the Jakarta Globe visited.
But the school is the only way for children like Yanti to get a formal education. Most of the children her age are already in sixth grade, but Yanti, who only got a taste of formal education when the school opened, has to mingle with classmates between 8 and 9 years of age.
“Before, I only attend Koran recital lessons in my village but I was asked by Pak Muklis [her Koran teacher] to go to formal school so I can learn how to read and write,” Yanti said.